Midlife Man, Greystone Books, 1998, $28.95, by Dr. Art Hister, BSc'68, MDCM'70

Every man, if he lives long enough, passes through his "midlife." For some it is a crisis; for others, nothing more than a curiosity or mild inconvenience, usually accompanied by some physical, emotional or intellectual change. Dr. Art Hister has confronted this male reality by describing the symptoms, causes, and, in some cases, the cures of the change of life, real or imagined.

Filled with facts, historical data, contemporary anecdotes and appropriate quotes, Hister covers a remarkably broad range of topics with insight, reassurance, and in most cases, a heavy dose of humour and irony. Not everyone will find each section of equal relevance or interest. The section dealing with gastro-esophageal reflux disease (why we pop antacid tablets) may be less of a priority than the chapters on sex, impotency, prostate cancer and Alzheimer's. In each case, however, Hister sugarcoats the pill with humour.

And herein lies both the strength and weakness of the book. It's coincidental that the film Patch Adams, starring Robin Williams as a medical student who does stand-up comedy for patients, played recently in theatres across the country, for Hister is of the Patch Adams school of medicine: bring more humour to medicine, and the medicine will work better. The colloquialisms, wry descriptions ("My ever receding hairline has retreated to what I know -- alas -- is a temporary trench on the top of my skull." "I have become my father: balding, bulging, buckling, belching and middle-aged.") and the steady stream of asides are the warp in a text whose weft is solid medical theory and practice.

For many men, the symptoms of middle age are truly frightening. The success of Viagra and hair transplants is commercial testimony to male insecurity. Hister treads a very fine line between allaying our fears through humour and describing the serious nature of the transition from youth to middle age. Language and laughter can soften our fears, but they also sometimes inadvertently trivialize concerns that can be very real. Is it reassuring to learn, for instance, that Don Cherry suffers from many of the problems dealt with in the book?

Is Midlife Man worth a read? Emphatically. But if you are concerned about a particular condition or disease, follow the advice Hister offers in his preface and find books specifically dedicated to that problem.

David M. Lank
David Lank, past chair of the McGill Associates and the McCord Museum, emphasizes that he is safely and successfully past middle age.

Chimbe, Nu-Jazz Records, 1998, $19.95, Koen Nys/Mike Rud Quartet.

It's good to see composition and listening talents haven't taken a back seat to chops among some of the emerging jazz musicians on the Canadian scene. Case in point is the new recording from McGill Music graduates Koen Nys, BMus'92, and Mike Rud, BMus'92, MMus'98.

Chimbe is tenor saxophonist Nys's first CD and guitarist Rud's second (his debut was 1996's Whyte Avenue). The result of international friendships -- Nys is from Belgium, Rud from Alberta, drummer Darren Becket from Ireland and bassist Steve Doyle from Nebraska -- Chimbe brings together four young players who've hooked up sporadically over recent years but who sound here like they've played together for much longer. Rud, a teacher in McGill's jazz program, acknowledges as much in his liner notes: "It was one of those rare instances where a band was just that -- a band. Not four individuals playing in their own worlds but that mysterious phenomenon wherein the whole really does seem to be greater than its parts."

This group plays beautifully together, with a unified, beguiling sound. They're not only listening carefully to each other, but using that ESP particular to good jazz ensembles. Over half the tunes are original compositions by Nys and Rud, most holding their own against standards like "You and the Night and the Music" and "You Don't Know What Love Is," the latter receiving a very nice, groove-heavy interpretation carried along by Doyle's somewhat threatening bass lines. The opening track "S.O.L." is an upbeat swinging tune, with subtle playing from composer Rud, who sounds a bit like one of his teachers at times -- the magnificent jazz guitar veteran Jim Hall -- though he never resorts to mimicry. (And if one is going to be influenced by anyone, Hall is the very best.) Nys's tunes, like the bluesy title track and "Poste Restante," are more atmospheric, stretching beyond a traditional sound but never leaving those roots too far behind.

Playing from all the musicians is first rate throughout, and the album closes with a pleaser, Sonny Rollins's infectious "The Everywhere Calypso," as fine a way to end this very fine offering as can be imagined.

Andrew Mullins

Books Received

Reality Games, Empyreal Press, 1998, $14.95, by Louis Dudek, BA'39.

Dudek, Professor Emeritus in McGill's Department of English, is best known as a poet, but here offers a collection of essays and short "notebook entries" on subjects ranging from Philistines to the origins of French.

In three sections titled "Bitter Pills," there are sometimes snarly, sometimes poignant one-liners ("Old age is a clinic full of old men's bodies as shapeless as the Cambodian alphabet"), while in "In the Footsteps of Leopold Bloom" he provides what he says is the first correct interpretation of the ending of James Joyce's Ulysses.

Tell You All, Plateau Press, 1998, $15.95, by E. David Brown, MA'92.

Author David Brown presents a startling and original variation of the traditional account of the crucifixion of Jesus. The story unfolds when Lazarus is resurrected from the grave. His hideous appearance terrifies friends and neighbours and pushes his wife over the brink of sanity. He goes in search of the Messiah to demand that Jesus fix his botched miracle. Following Lazarus on his journey, we learn about the religious and political struggle in Judea and see the parallels to our own time -- the hatred and violence in Sarajevo and Gaza.

Tell You All tells us that nothing has changed.